Getting into the greeting card business is relatively easy, Ventresca attests. All you need are graphic design skills and a computer. Entrepreneurs often start with less than $5,000--sometimes much less, if they already own a computer and printer. Many designers gain experience by freelancing for the major card companies. You can create samples on your computer and take them directly to stores, pitch them to potential sales representatives or display them at trade shows such as the National Stationery Show held every May in New York City.
Maureen Waters, former editor of industry trade publication Greetings Today, suggests sidestepping card-store chains, which rarely take chances on newcomers. Instead, look for creative outlets for your work: small gift shops, flower shops and airport shops. "If you find a place that isn't selling cards, ask the owner if you can set up a spinner rack in a corner to sell your cards--which, most often, are an impulse buy," Waters says.
The tricky part is staying in business. "Retailers want a guarantee of success," says Waters. "They're reluctant to take chances on new lines." Because creating cards is so easy and getting into the industry so inexpensive, unseasoned entrepreneurs often jump into business impulsively, without a business plan or a definite sense of direction--common mistakes that can prove fatal.
Ventresca's business took off with ease in 1993, but a couple of years later it slowed dramatically. "I met with friends to examine my cards, and we noticed they had no sense of direction, nothing to hold them together as a line," she says. So Ventresca decided to create a set of recurring characters--a few young women, a man and a dog--who pop up repeatedly doing aerobics, going shopping, working on a computer or eating chocolate. "The competition is more brutal than I thought it would be," she acknowledges, adding that she's taken some courses to hone her business skills.